Unreal Engine 3… Free.

By Kieron Gillen on November 5th, 2009 at 4:55 pm.

Interesting times indeed. Following the news that Unity3D went free for its indie package, Epic announce that you can now use the Unreal Development kit for non-commercial uses. Crikey. Reading the licentiate details, if you actually want to go commercial it’s in exchange for a 25% of revenue after your first $5000. Which is a hefty slice, of course… but considering how much an actual full licence for Unreal is, it’s still has to be tempting. Examples of how this could change stuff? Obvious stuff: mods for Unreal no longer would require you to buy a game. As long as a team makes everything, you can just distribute them… and you have to wonder whether now because they can do it, they’ll try to monetize them. Other random prediction: teams trying to remake classics like Deus Ex. Which will never be completed, but the thought’s there.

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87 Comments »

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  1. Tridec says:

    This is amazing. Couple of other devs I've spoken to about it have ended up with their jaws on the floor.

    One of the best game engines available, for no up-front cost. Madness!

  2. Psychopomp says:

    Epic, you confound me.

  3. Hug_dealer says:

    Epic actually gets pc gamers. Unlike infinity ward.

    This is ver exciting for modding community.

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      Vandelay says:

      I didn’t think I would be hearing someone say that after many of their recent actions.

    • Po0py says:

      Yup. Epic have not pleased me in recent times either.

    • Frankie The Patrician[PF] says:

      Epic who? I haven’t really cared about them as of late…

    • rocketman71 says:

      Epic gets PC gamers?

      BWAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAA!

      Thanks for the laugh.

      Signed,

      the bread and butter of Epic.

    • TotalBiscuit says:

      You cannot be serious. This is the same company that blamed the PC platform for all it’s woes with Unreal 3 and said it was abandoning it in favour of consoles. They don’t ‘get’ PC gamers at all, but what they have sensed is a profit opportunity and a strategy which they can use to gain market dominance in terms of engine use. It happens to be good for indie studios and I applaud them for that, but don’t mistake this as Epic’s redemption as a born-again PC developer. They aren’t.

    • PHeMoX says:

      @ Total Biscuit: Don’t be a total biscuit fool now, Epic already dominates the Engine market with their Unreal 3 technology.

      I am very surprised about this move, but perhaps it says a whole lot more about Unreal 3 or the upcoming Unreal Engine 4. Perhaps a press release about all that is imminent?

  4. Jacques says:

    Holy crap. Thanks, that's pretty awesome.

  5. RLacey says:

    Seems like a seriously good deal to me. And while 25% over $5000 doesn’t sound particularly nice, I can imagine that ti would be much more suitable for low-budget games predicting low (but sufficient) sales than a hefty up-front fee.

    • Nerd Rage says:

      Well the (from what I can tell) standard rate for digital distribution is a 30% take of the sale, which means you get to keep 70% of whatever your game makes if you use an established distribution portal. Depending on whether Epic wants its 25% from the original price or from your 70%, you’d end up keeping between 45% and 52.5% of whatever your game makes. Then there’s taxes, and the fact that it’s most likely you won’t have been the only person to work on the game. This makes it easier to create quality-looking indie games, but it doesn’t really make it any easier for an indie studio to actually stay in business. Unless the eye candy drives a *significantly* higher volume of sales, which I’ll admit it actually might do.

    • Starky says:

      It should be a cut from that 70%

      Revenue is money the company receives. That 30% cut steam takes is never seen by the company.

      It’s not like steam pay them 100% of that money then they need to pay 30% back – it’s the same dal as with physical products, revenue is determined by the wholesale price (as in the cash you actually get for selling it) not the cost to the consumer from the retailer.

      So, if you made a little game and sold it for £10 per copy.
      Steam would take £3
      Epic would take £1.75
      Leaving you with £5.25

      Keeping in mind until you made $5000 (£3015) you’d not pay epic a penny and you’d get the full £7.

  6. Dominic White says:

    This is probably the best news for freeware developers in ages. Unreal 3 is a hugely powerful beast, and has been used for everything from MMOs to turn-based RPGs to racing games and even strategy. It’s scaleable, it’s powerful and it’s widely supported.

    The 25% cut sounds pretty big for those who go commercial, but it’s still probably a far better option than the enormous engine lisencing fee.

  7. Rindicious says:

    If anyone is planning to use this… please keep it singleplayer.

    //Hates leading for ping

    • Doctor Doc says:

      He speaks the truth! The Unreal Engine is great for single player but the worst choice for multiplayer. Just another reason UT3 is so popular… WTH were they thinking making a competitive deathmach game that does not work over the Internet because they STILL kept the same broken netcode that everyone got rid of after the invention of QuakeWorld??

    • Droniac says:

      Actually the Doom 3 engine is easily the worst choice for multiplayer gaming, but you’re right: Unreal engine isn’t known for it’s stellar netcode.

  8. James G says:

    Neat move, and one which I hope will be repaid with lots of Indie goodness. As RLacey points out, the commercial deal, although sounding a bit hefty, is nice an low risk for Indie developers who may be pulling a bit of a gamble.

  9. Tei says:

    Great news!… I suppose this will help modders to make his mods standalone enormeously. It also make modding for unreal much more insteresting, so If what you make is interesting, you can distribute it from the start. Very, very, very good news.

    It could be better if where open source, but free distributing of binaries is the second best thing :-)

  10. Nick says:

    Sounds like the perfect time to do The Cassandra Project 2.

  11. Guto says:

    Epic has a pretty big disappointment for PC gamers in the past few years. These, however, are wonderful news.

  12. Srejv says:

    Sweeeeet!

  13. dsmart says:

    While this is pretty good, I don’t see the value in it if you go commercial. A 25% royalty is way too high imo – no matter how you slice and dice it.

    The major upside of this is that more dev folks will get to learn how to use the UT engine and thus make themselves more marketable for work.

    Each time something like this comes up, there will be a bunch of script kiddies who couldn’t spell correctly, let alone know what a compiler is, looking to do a game – and in short order, completely kill the forums of any meaningful discussions. Go ahead and go to the forums of other engines to see what I mean.

    While the UT engine is of course world class, you can get Trinigy, Unigine etc for much less and they’re far easier to learn. UT is for top tier game development and even a mod team is going to be hard pressed to do anything resembling a “from the ground up” game. This is an entire dev system, no some map or code base for TC related dev work.

    • Dominic White says:

      “A 25% royalty is way too high imo – no matter how you slice and dice it.”

      How much is an Unreal 3 engine lisence normally? I’ve heard it’s somewhere in the range of a quarter-million dollars or something ridiculous. Unless you expect to make over a million dollars on your indie project, then 25% is still paying less than the going rate.

    • Dominic White says:

      Okay, not sure if this is accurate, but apparently a royalty-free UE3 lisence is around $750,000

      Yeah, that 25% sounds like a really, really, REALLY good deal for indie studios.

    • Nerd Rage says:

      Not spending a million dollars doesn’t make it a good deal, it just means you’re not spending a million dollars.

    • pepper says:

      I very much agree with you on this, I think they got slightly upset with the amount of press unity got when releasing 2.6 indy for free. One thing im wondering about is, if MS will go for a interfaced XNA or keep it at the current course. Both have there own advantages.

    • Bhazor says:

      No but if your game makes say £100,000 then you pay £25,000 for the Unreal Engine which is a bargain however you slice it.

    • Kadayi says:

      @Bhazor

      Alternatively use an engine that’s not going to cost you 25% of your revenue and make a decent profit rather than keep Cliffy B in hair gel & bad clothing for a few more years.

      A quarter of your revenue stream on a game you’ve put the blood, sweat and tears into simply going out the door because you were fool enough to feel ‘UT’ was absolutely the best engine to use, is the sort of thing that will haunt you later. That’s about the slice of money you want to be attempting to put aside so you can continue to make further games. Effectively you’d be making a living rath er than making a profit, where as for Epic it’s all profit as they’ve already made their money off the engine.

  14. LionsPhil says:

    Holy beans. That wasn’t expected.

    I mean, yes, my same comments as for Unity apply, but Epic don’t seem to be fighting for engine marketshare (their engine is already widely used), or to build a tool-skilled developer community (they already have one from years of strong mod support: see BeyondUnreal’s wiki, for example) the same way.

  15. teo says:

    The difference between using this to make a game and modding UT3 is enormous, but it’s still awesome that they’re releasing it. I’m looking forward to checking it out

  16. Azazel says:

    Time to remake some FPS classics mod madmen. You know you want to do it.

  17. M.P. says:

    Surely you couldn’t actually make standalone Unreal Tournament mods with this? Does the engine come with the game’s assets?

    • Dominic White says:

      I don’t think you can use UT3 art/sound assets, but they’re promoting a standalone version of The Ball (formerly a UT3 mod) as one of their example UDK games, so mods CAN transition from Unreal 3 to standalone.

  18. LionsPhil says:

    @teo: Yes, but that’s likely workload, not skills, no? This doesn’t appear to be a source license, so it’s still UnrealScript, UnrealEd, texturing and modelling, et. al. Just a hell of a lot more of it, as you don’t have UT’s assets and classes to build upon. Sure, you’re going to need a whole bunch of management and system architecture skills too, but that’s universal to any nontrivial endeavour.

    My point is that, unlike Unity, UnrealEngine already has a pool of potential game developer employees out there who know this tech, and thus encourage it to be used by said potential game developer.

  19. LionsPhil says:

    @MP: It comes with UT3 demo assets. I haven’t yet found any clear licensing on if they’re redistributable as some kind of derivative game. I would guess not by default.

    Perhaps it’s worth digging out the somewhat underused-these-days term “total conversion” for clarity.

  20. Sp4rkR4t says:

    Not a surprise and not particularly welcome, unity is a great little engine and yes UE3 is powerful but it is also a very messy engine to use what with AA/AF/VSYNC only working on this model of card from this batch at this phase of the moon it’s an engine that bad that even if there is a game I want but it’s based on UE3 I automatically take £10 off the price I’m willing to pay for it.

  21. Railick says:

    What people seem to be missing is that you could very easily just use this deal for your /first/ game. Even if you don't make a massive amount of moeny you will have released a game! That will make it alot easier for you to get funding for your second game (and if not, you could just make your second game with the same deal and still make some money at least) Which could be a lot easier for an indie dev team who couldn't get funding to get the engine with upfront costs. Once they get their name out there and get a following then maybe for the next game they'll get funding or a deal with a publisher ect to help them out.

    • MrTambourineMan says:

      One successful project is not any guarantee whatsoever that you’ll strike a deal for you second game – just think about how many studios went up in smoke recently. For better representation I’ll give you a quote from John Gibson (Tripwire CEO – you know that Red Orchestra guy) : “”We’ll give you a 15 percent royalty rate, take the IP rights to your game, and slap a $1.5 million administrative fee on top of your recoupment costs.” And deals like this were being offered for a game we funded ourselves!”. And RO mod was popular and acclaimed by press and fellow devs by winning MSU contest. Source: http://www.gamasutra.com/php-bin/news_index.php?story=25595

    • Railick says:

      What you say is true, but in this case using this deal you wouldn’t HAVE to be self funded. A group of people can get together and work for free making their game with this engine and sell it without any upfront cost. This could be the /only/ way certain people might be able to make a sell a game. Getting SOME notice does assist you in getting a second game made if the first one was successful. In your example RO was a mod and had no success at the time (as it had not been sold) anything free can be popular the true test is if people will actually PAY for the game. (personally I’d never PAY for RO when I could just play it for free, which is what I did when it came out I just kept playing the mod :P)

    • MrTambourineMan says:

      Well I don’t see any difference here – Tripwire guys had the license for UE2.5 – > self-funded means that no one was giving them money to develop the game (i.e. no one payed them for their WORK not ENGINE).

    • Railick says:

      Trip wire WON A license for their game by winning a modding contest, that is the ONLY reason they were able to make a game. ( I also believe they won a sum of money for winning the contest as well I’m not sure)

      What I’m saying is this will allow people who are willing to work on their own time (and not get paid) to make a game and get it sold , giving them in inlet into the market without having to find a publisher or be beholden to any one to repay investments ect and give them a chance to get a good deal for a second game.

      If they don’t actually spend anything but time making their first game all they will make is profit. If they make their own art assests ect and just use the unreal 3 engine to make the game it won’t cost them anything at all. I’m talking about like 3 friends starting up a project together and agreeing to take their pay from whatever they make after the game is release, like an indie team that would normally work on donations or pre-orders or something of this nature.

  22. Ging says:

    From what I know of UT3 mod development, starting from scratch is pretty common as so much of the existing UScript is tied to the existing gameplay – if you want to make a slightly modified CTF than it’s not a problem but if you want to do anything that’s even slightly different or unusual than you start from essentially a blank slate.

    Downloading this now so I can have a play around.

  23. Chris R says:

    Lets see a remake of the original Unreal and Deus Ex please!!!!

  24. dsmart says:

    So, if you made a little game and sold it for £10 per copy.
    Steam would take £3
    Epic would take £1.75
    Leaving you with £5.25

    …and when you factor in the cost of development, length of time etc, you’d be lucky to see the bright side of £2 per unit profit.

    When you consider that games like Killing Floor (made from the Source engine that costs about $250K or thereabouts) and sold for $19.99, it becomes clear that you better have a hit on your hands if you want to make any money at all.

    Again, the 25% royalty on commercial releases is way too high. A sliding scale royalty based model would have been better I think.

    The very best thing about this is that **experienced** studios can now start on a UT3 based game, then go pitch it – knowing that the cost of the engine license comes from the backend and not something they or the publisher have to factor into upfront costs which can run up to $1m depending on the platforms.

    • Dominic White says:

      Actually, Killing Floor uses the Unreal 2 engine, which they won a royalty-free lisence for by making Red Orchestra and winning the Make Something Unreal contest.

    • Starky says:

      You’re probably correct but I wasn’t arguing it was a good deal simply that 25% would come from “wholesale” price, So you’re keeping just over 50% of RRP, which as I’m sure you know is a hell of a lot better than some publishing deals.

      If that is enough for making a profit depends utterly on the expenses of the project.

      The way I see it, is this isn’t great news for the professional Indie like yourself, for the working business studio of any size this deal is either going to be meaningless. Either they have the budget to buy UT3 royalty free, or they’re better off using something else or making their own engine, or a cheaper lower profile engine.

      The great benefit for this package I see is for amateurs. Mod projects using UT3 engine that if they manage to gain some success can make the shift from free to commercial.

      Something like this would have been amazing for say a successful mod like Natural Selection.
      Imagine if back in the day Valve went to Unknown worlds and gave them this deal. It would have been MUCH easier for them to fund Natural Selection 2 had that happened.
      Sure they were driven by donations (I personally paid them £20 for a free mod and a little icon next to my name in game – oh and access to a forum I never really used :P), but I like many people would have loved to buy a stand alone version of that game.

      So I agree with you it’s not a good idea really for a start-to-finish commercial game, but it’s an amazing idea for a successful mod to standalone commercial product transition.

      More choice is always good choice I say, and this move by Epic just games game/mod makers more choice.

    • Railick says:

      Actually they used their free unreal license to make RO into a full game, not Killing Floor

  25. Hug_dealer says:

    Yes epic has cried about PC piracy, but what other company has done so much for the modding community, only valve compares, and its not even close.

    • Nerd Rage says:

      Well, Bethesda has released a tool kit for everything since Morrowind. Bioware put out tool kits for NWN and NWN2. With the exception of Fallout 3, I’m pretty sure mods are the only reason anyone is still playing any of those games.

    • Droniac says:

      Bethesda doesn’t really compare. The tools might be there, but the community isn’t.

      The only games I can name that come close to the Unreal series in terms of modding support and sheer size of the modding community are the NWN series and Half Life 2. Neither of those offer $1 million competitions for modders, nor do they have vast video archives of how-to-mod-this-game sold with their CEs, so they still fall well short of the Unreal series.

      Epic may suck at making PC games lately, but they’re great at giving PC gamers the tools, support and incentive to make something good out of their mess.

  26. Kua says:

    Eh! And I just bought a copy of UT3 for the sole purpose of playing mods based on its engine :/

  27. dsmart says:

    @ Dominic

    Yeah, its not KF I was thinking about. Can’t remember now if it was ZC. Anyway, the point I was making is clear I think.

  28. TheSombreroKid says:

    25% and no source this is laughable, there’s no way this is going to be able to compete with unity or using your own tech, i’m currently in the process of starting a project and this was a consideration the licensing terms are out of the question though.

    • jackflash says:

      Try negotiating. I would. I agree 25% is basically out of the question. But hey, it’s a recession, they want money, try to find some middle ground – 10% for the first $500,000 in revenue, 15% for the next, etc. I’d be interested to see if Epic would budge at all on this at the negotiating table. I mean, it’s not like it costs them anything to allow people to use their engine for a royalty. Would they be stupid enough to deny a license for flat 20% (or lower and escalating) instead of 25%? That’s just leaving money on the table. Then again, Epic have shown themselves to be asses in the past.

  29. Railick says:

    Steam should release Source for free and offer a better deal just to blow them out on the water :)

  30. dsmart says:

    Killing Floor is also Source

    • Dominic White says:

      No, it isn’t. It’s Unreal 2.5, and the engine lisence that Tripwire have is the one they got for winning the Make Something Unreal contest back with Red Orchestra, which also funded the development of KF from mod to full game.

  31. Hug_dealer says:

    killing floor is 2.5 unreal engine.

  32. Prey King says:

    Yep, it’s a Source engine game that just so happens to be very similar in feel and shares lots of features with Unreal Tournament 2004. Riiiiiiiiiiight.

  33. kulak says:

    fucking amazing.

    three cheers for epic

  34. Dominic White says:

    I’d just like to point out that this is really good for mod teams. Again, they’re using The Ball as one of their test demos. Rather than have it limited to being a UT3 mod, it’s now a standalone game that (once finished, and all core UT3 elements stripped out) they could sell for a bit of money if they wanted.

  35. Schmung says:

    This is incredible. Essentially means you no longer a need a game to mod if you want to do FPS stuff which is always a barrier to success in that arena. Course, if you’re working on a non UT engine then it’s far from the best plan, but if you’re just starting out it’s the best possible thing you could ever ask for.

    Thank You Epic. A wonderful thing to do. Might not be great commercially, but it’s putting current gen, industry gen tech in peoples hands for NO MONEY and if you can’t see that as a good thing then you’re dead inside or just overly cynical.

  36. dsmart says:

    OK so it was ZC then. My mistake. As you were.

  37. Railick says:

    hey DSmart, since you're reading this how did AAW Turn out for 3000 AD? Success I hope, I havn't been able to access the forum there are 3000ad from work for months :(

  38. dsmart says:

    They did as expected – especially given the current economic climate. They probably could have done better, but being a 3000AD game that requires someone to have a few fully functioning brain cells, I can’t complain too much. :)

    The forums are up and fine – not sure why you can’t reach them. We have two forums on Steam as well.

    But we’ve moved on to our last game, our space/planetary MMO due out between 2010 and 2011.Announced it about three weeks ago: : http://galactic-command.com

    Thanks for asking.

  39. Railick says:

    They're blocked from where I work by the company, no problem with you.

  40. Urthman says:

    Imagine how many more people might have played something like Dear Esther or Research and Development if you didn’t have to buy (or reinstall) Episode Two first.

  41. Railick says:

    OMFG Supreme Commander (Aka Dsmart for everyone else)
    I was able to look at that website you linked to and watch the video I think I need a change of pants! I can't wait for this game to come out, you've just ruined my life (Again) my wife is going to leave me when this comes out :P
    What are the chances of you taking the updated engine used in this and releasing a final Universal Combat single player game? These graphics are amazing, <edit> That SENTRY is amazing :) It looks so much better than the old one, I always thought the Sentry in UC games looked a bit off but this new one is beautiful mate.

    Shadowcat “It hammers at my retinas like an evil woodpecker of pure energy”

  42. Mark says:

    This is the biggest news since, like, the creation of the internet.

  43. Jayt says:

    Epic, assholes, but smart assholes.

  44. Tei says:

    I sould look into Unity, if EPIC is this scared must be really good.

  45. Lobotomist says:

    KUDOS!

  46. fearian says:

    Remember that for most teams – if not all – Making a game with the UDK and selling at indie prices would net them more money than releasing it for free and asking for donations.

    And then remember that in nearly all cases of the sort, the aim is not to make money, but to show your talent, stick it on the front of your CV and pick up a job.

  47. Jonas says:

    Which will never be completed, but the thought’s there.
    Quoted for truth.

    On an even more obvious note, this is shockingly great.

  48. Generico says:

    This is awesome. Hopefully epic means to stand by this and support it with future toolset updates. If that is the case, I take back all the horrible things I’ve said about Epic, and I will pack my Mark Rein voodoo doll away indefinitely.

  49. Flint says:

    Someone remake Unreal 1 with this please.